Originally posted on Taking Bad Schotz  |  Last updated 8/12/12

The toughest decision facing any General Manager as the season winds down will be Mike Rizzo’s decision of whether or not to shut down Stephen Strasburg, and if so, at what point.  Strasburg has been one of the best pitchers in the league to this point, putting up a 2.97 ERA, a 2.69 FIP, and a WAR of 3.7.  Unfortunately, he is also coming off of Tommy John Surgery, and at the beginning of the year, Rizzo was quoted as saying that Strasburg would be shut down at 160 innings.  Recently, it has been reported that he will not pitch more than 180 innings this season.  The Nationals have been one of the most exciting teams in baseball all season, and as of August 11th they led the National League East by four games.

Via Fanspeak.com

This creates a difficult situation for Rizzo, who must weigh the future health of one of his best young players against the possibility that, with Strasburg anchoring the rotation, the Nationals could make a run at a World Series championship.  It is obvious that there is still much to be learned about how to prevent pitching injuries.  Jeff Passan recently tweeted that there are 52 starting pitchers currently on the Disabled List.  This is a significant number, and it certainly suggests that starting pitchers are associated with an extreme amount of risk.  This risk is what forces GM’s to set innings limits on young starters, and those coming off of injury.  There are huge financial advantages for keeping starters healthy, and of course the on-field future of the team is at stake.  So Rizzo is not just making a decision about Stephen Strasburg, but about the relationship between short-term success and long-term risk.

The reality of the situation is that there is no right answer.  There are so many variables at play, and so little certainty, that it is impossible to make a decision without at least having some doubts.  On one hand, Strasburg would seriously help the Nationals down the stretch, as they attempt to hold on to their current lead in the division, and in the playoffs where starting pitching is always key.  A playoff rotation consisting of Gio Gonzalez (2.68 FIP), Strasburg, and Jordan Zimmerman (3.26 FIP) would strike fear into even the most prolific lineup.  No other team in the National League has more than one pitcher with a FIP lower than 3.27; the Nationals have three.  On the other hand, a healthy Strasburg would be way more valuable in the long-run.  If pushed past his innings limit, Strasburg could tire at the end of the season, hurt his arm, and never be the same pitcher again.  Recently retired Kerry Wood provides a cautionary tale of an uber-talented pitcher whose career was ruined by injuries.

It seems pretty clear that Mike Rizzo has made up his mind, and will shut Strasburg down at some point this season.  There is no definitive way to tell if this is the correct decision at this time.  Rizzo had a tough choice to make, and his ultimate decision will no doubt have an effect on the rest of the season, as well as the future of the franchise.

-Albright

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